It’s About the Relationship, Stupid

Okay, I’m slow male, but I usually get there. I’ve been trying to figure out what I was missing in the 65 comments in the Understandable, But A Bad Idea post and the 101 (and counting) comments on Why You’re Not Getting Spaghetti.

And then, finally, the lightbulb went on. It’s About the Relationship, Stupid. 

It's About the Relationship, Stupid

I know that women are wired for relationship in a way men aren’t, and I should have seen it sooner. Apparently, there are certain things women don’t separate from the relationship(s) in which it previously occurred. Men don’t do this nearly as much. She thinks about the context, while he just thinks about the thing. The song, movie, restaurant or sex act he learned he enjoyed with Matilda is only peripherally connected to Matilda in his mind. Those things are just things to him, and they don’t carry emotional or relational ties for him.

My purpose for this post is two-fold. First I want you to know most men don’t make these connections the way most women do, and most of us don’t even consider that a possibility. Second I want your feedback on this before I try to educate the guys about it. I’ve run this by a couple of card-carrying women and not been told I’m clueless, so I think I’m on the right track. So where can I improve on that?

~ Paul – I’m XY, not XX!


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37 Comments on “It’s About the Relationship, Stupid

  1. Men are like waffles, women are like spaghetti. Great book which I highly r.

  2. You are exactly right. I am in my second marriage and married a widower. He has kept many items from the first marriage. Some seem intimate to me and hurt me to have around my home, as they remind me that I am second. However, my husband disagrees and says they don’t have the sentimental value to him. He just sees they still have use. If men and women could try to have more empathy for each other, it would help. It’s two different languages!

    • @Kimberly – That’s an excellent way of showing the difference – thanks.

      If they don’t have sentimental value, he must think it would be wasteful to get rid of them and buy new ones. It’s practicality rather than relationship that drives it.

      In general, men don’t get sentimental about objects. I have a few things made for me by a child or grandchild that have sentimental value to me, but they are rare exceptions.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Home As A Safe PlaceMy Profile

      • I have all my old letters and photos of my boyfriend before I met hubby. I asked hubby he wanted me to throw them away and he said no. He said they are my good memories and I should keep them. They don’t threaten him or define our marriage. Maybe it is different because hubby is the only man I ever had sex with. I never had sex with my previous boyfriend, so there isn’t that complication or level of intimacy.

        I would also like to experience with hubby things I did with my boyfriend, like places we went to. I think hubby would enjoy them.

        I miss my boyfriend, but only as a friend. I don’t miss him romantically at all. Time, distance, and maturity have changed so much.

        There is a woman out there who hubby would have married instead of me if he had known she was interested. He only found out several years into our marriage that she had wanted to have a relationship with him. It was kind of a blow to find out I am “second choice,” but hubby doesn’t see it that way. He sees it as I am his wife and that’s that. Don’t complicate it anymore than that. I am sure he worked through a few “what it’s” but being a practical man, I am sure it didn’t occupy too much of his mind and very little of his heart. Ultimately, he turned to me and continued on with being my husband.

        As a woman, I get that women jump right to the hurt and comparison, but I am learning that that is nothing more than assuming things that aren’t there and setting your marriage up for contrived hurt, which is ultimately more dividing and damaging that ancient history before you even knew each other.

        • @Libl – Good job describing how your husband feels. Many men, maybe most, would feel the same way. I know some who would have a problem with the letters, but I think they are the exception.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Home As A Safe PlaceMy Profile

  3. Haven’t commented on the other two posts, but I’ve read them and their comments. I think you’re on the right track now, as far as the xx side. Like Gary Thomas says, cherishing your spouse includes treating your spouse as your Eve/Adam, as the ONLY standard, as if no one existed for you before. Clear your hard drive of past encounters, and fill it with memories of your spouse. I understand this is much easier said than done, but I think it’s important to strive towards. If there is something you’d like to try with your spouse, that’s great! It is possible to propose (act) without bringing up your ex or how much you’ve enjoyed it before. I know I would NEVER be inspired to try something if “Betty Sue’s” name is dropped during the discussion. In the case where the spouse had a great experience with (act) in the past but the wife is not interested, perhaps it’s because she’s had a bad experience with (act) in her past. In that case, I can see how discussing previous encounters could be beneficial on a case-by-case basis, but I still don’t think specifics of who, where, or when are necessary.
    As for the spaghetti metaphor, my husband lost his mother young. Her recipes have mostly disappeared. I can try to recreate them, but they’ll never be the same. Even if he tells me it tastes better than he remembers, I know it could never replace the memories because I can’t replicate the past. He genuinely appreciates the effort, and I try my best, but I’m much more inspired to experiment with new flavors and create new favorite foods of our own.

    • @Fan of Discretion – Thanks for the good thoughts from Gary Thomas.

      For me it’s two separate databases. In terms of the emotional aspects of relationship and sex I have totally wiped everyone else and only have Lori. But I still have the experiences. Part of why I don’t see a problem with mentioning Betty-Sue is that there is no emotional connection between her and any sex act, activity, song, and so on. I suspect most men are as I am, but I don’t know that for sure.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Home As A Safe PlaceMy Profile

      • I get that it’s not a problem for most XY to mention Betty Sue, but I’m saying that it IS a problem for XX. So, in the spirit of oneness with your spouse, making their emotions your emotions and protecting them from pain of comparison (as women generally have to fight that harder), just leave Betty Sue out of it. If it’s new to your marriage bed, treat it as new.
        I’m so happy that you and Lori have the level of intimacy that you share, but at about 23 years behind you guys, I’m not ready for it to include the details. Maybe it’s because we still occasionally see those exes, but I’d much rather be blissfully ignorant than know past details.

  4. I’d say yes, you’re on the right track. I didn’t comment on the Spaghetti post, but I did read it as well as most of the comments. I was amazed at the difference in the comments and a lot of it was along gender lines.
    In my situation, I’ve been upset for three years, after asking my husband about his favorite position and he answered a position he’d never done with me, but I knew from something he told me 25 years ago that he had done that with an old girlfriend.

    Yesterday I wrote him a letter (the recent posts have dredgedthis pain up again) and letters give him time to take in what I’m saying and process it.
    Now he claims he really thought we had used that position, and that he doesn’t even think about that old girlfriend. Throughout my hurt over this (years) he couldn’t understand why I was so upset and I couldn’t understand what he didn’t get.

    In my mind, him saying that was his favorite position came with dozens of implications. He found her worthier, more attractive, better in bed, he missed her, the best sex of his life was with her, he didn’t think I was worthy of even trying his favorite position. After 20 years of marriage and thinking he enjoyed sex with me, I learned the harsh truth that I didn’t even come close to memories of his old girlfriend. My husband claims NONE of this is true. (Note, he never sees this girl, he broke up with her, and they’ve had no contact since).

    He says when I asked him he felt put on the spot (we were in a weird place at the time) and he just picked a position. He honestly thought we’d done it. I even read into that statement. If it was the first thing that popped into his head, then it meant the world to him, which could only mean SHE meant the world to him. I mean, what man in his right mind would answer a question like that without thinking about it first, and then if you thought about it and still picked a position you’d only done with your ex, then you must want to hurt your wife and the love of the position means more to you than your wife’s feelings.

    This might seem out there to a man, but you asked how women connect things.

    After him reading the letter and us talking about this yesterday, he explained so much. If I’m going to believe him (which I should, but I was raised to trust no one, so it’s hard) – then he claims he really did just answer off the top of his head. He doesn’t remember every position we’ve used in 22 years. At the time he thought we’d done that together. Based on my very negative reaction, he was afraid to ever try it or bring it up. Him not trying it even after the original “bad” discussion just cemented the idea in my head that he didn’t think I was good enough and that he didn’t want to tarnish his memories of her. He still claims he was just scared to bring it up after then. He then told me I am his favorite to do anything with, and I always have been. That’s hard for me to believe, but maybe I should try. By believing in him, I might be being a fool, but is it any less foolish to always look at things negatively?

    Will I ever be with him in that position? I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to, and I still have the idea in my head that he just thinks I’m not attractive enough or tiny enough.
    (I’m 5’9, close to 155. Most of his old girlfriends were more the 5’2, 120 lb type.) it involves lap sitting, so my insecurity about my size makes me feel he’s actually afraid to have me on his lap. So there’s also my jealousy of her perfect petite brunette perfect womanness vs my large ugliness playing into this. So you can see how what he said three years ago just compounded a bigger problem.

    Men don’t always seem to get that some women have insecurities and what seems like an offhanded comment to a man can really, REALLY play into those insecurities. I sometimes wonder why men seem to actually WANT to hurt the women they claim to love, and it’s hard to accept that they are telling the truth when they say they never meant to.

    Men and women are just different. But yeah, it’s gonna take me a long time to get over it, if ever. So yes Paul, I think you’re on the right track.

    • @B – you wrote something very similar to my situation.

      My husband years ago brought up this position that was “so awesome” and what not, waxing pretty heavy on his enjoyment of it, and wanting to try it again. Like you, it wasn’t me. I would remember this. And we had been married for at least 10 years. To say I was hurt was an understatement. When I finally cooled down enough to talk, he was shocked that it wasn’t me. He told me, when he was talking about, he honestly believed we had done it together.

      I worked through alot of the emotions you talked about. We finally (months) came to an understanding, that naturally, there are going to be things he has done with others, I was a virgin when we met, he was not. I don’t want to limit our sex life to what he didn’t do with others, as that would be extremely limiting and not just for me! So instead I asked him that if he isn’t 100% positive that he did it with me, to just offer it as a suggestion, and not wax on about enjoying so much. And this has helped alot.

      It took years before I could every try this position. And then, when we did, it was my idea to try it, and my timing on it. It was great for me, I have no idea about him, I was to afraid to ask, but he “seemed” to enjoy it : )

      As for your insecurities, take it from me, as I am still working through things, he will never make you secure in yourself. He can’t. He wasn’t even designed to. Look into some books written by women for women, there are some good ones out there, The Sexually Confident Wife, and some of Sheila Gregorie’s book are worth reading. Again, I am still working through things, but these helped me to realize that my insecurities were limiting my enjoyment of sex too.

      Paul – yes its the relationship part that is the hang up!

      • Hi Lori, I’ve tried a couple times, just sitting in his lap, but I make sure my feet are on the ground so I can lean my weight on my own legs, or I make sure I can lean most of my body weight on the arm of the sofa. I’m really afraid of crushing him. All my life I’ve been told and sometimes ridiculed about what a “big girl” I am. Trust me, no man looks forward to having a woman as large as me on their lap. I’d rather miss out than hurt him. 😔
        But knowing it was his favorite when done with a girl that was the perfect size, that hurts. It’s a multi-level problem.

        • B, when i was 9months pregnant and HUGE my husband insisted on trying this position where he essentially had to hold me off the ground. He held me up just fine. I’ve also sat on his lap with all my weight. I was almost 100 lbs more than you at the time, and dh is skinny.
          35 lbs is not that big of a difference, and maybe your extra legginess might add some balance.

          Who told you you were a big girl?

          • @Molly, thank you. Oh so many people have told me I was a “big girl”. My sisters, my mother-in-law (my MIL always refers to me that way), my sister-in-law, several girls from HS, and a couple women I’ve worked with. So yep, heard it a billion times.

            • The women in your life are wrong. I bet you have a gorgeous body with curves in all the right places. Seriously. They’re probably jealous. No woman harps on another woman about Her weight unless they had a problem with their own weight.
              You need to tell them to bug off if they bring it up again.
              I’m 5’7 and i looked best when i weighed about 160. I would be very happy at 155.
              Every woman is beautiful. We should be lifting each other up, not tearing each other down.

        • @B, you really need to stop deciding what “perfect size” is for others. 5’2 and 120lbs is not ideal for everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever dated a girl under about 5’8, most were 5’10 or taller, my wife is 6’0. If your husband says he likes how you are, accept that and move on.

        • @B

          It’s good that you’re challenging assumptions.

          Challenge some more now. I don’t think you comprehend how strong men are. In high school, my male friend (who wasn’t an athlete or anything) my exact height and weight picked me up no problem. My other friend who I knew was essentially sedentary picked me up under ONE ARM and tossed me in the ocean.
          The other night my husband – who runs, but hasn’t lifted weights in years and is a professor – just up and moved his gun cabinet across the room like it was nothing. He has 50 guns in there. That thing is probably 3 your weight. I’ve seen him lift a lot of other absurd things. Heck, I’ve seen 5 or 6 teenage boys lift a CAR. You said your husband is a construction worker? He can handle your weight. My mom can handle me sitting in her lab and I’m only a little lighter than you.

          You will not crush your husband. Unless you plan on gaining like 300 or 400 pounds.

          • @alchemist – Yeah, there is a significant strength difference. I read one study which was done on college students. The women were athletes, the men were not. They were about the same on lower body strength, while the men had greater upper body strength.
            Most guys would be fine with 200 pounds on their lap, and many would be good with 250 or more.
            Paul Byerly recently posted…Home As A Safe PlaceMy Profile

      • 5’9 155 is considered a healthy weight for a female, a whole lot of women would be thrilled to have those dimensions. It isn’t “heavy”.

    • @B – It sounds like you’ve done some great communicating and both exposed and uncovered truths with your hubby. Way to go!

      “Men don’t always seem to get that some women have insecurities and what seems like an offhanded comment to a man can really, REALLY play into those insecurities.”

      No, we don’t. We assume you’re like we are. I need to do a better job of pointing this out on TGH.

      “I mean, what man in his right mind would answer a question like that without thinking about it first.”

      The vast majority of us, actually.

      BTW, he might have mentioned that act because he assumed if he enjoyed it, he must have done it with you. I know that sounds impossible to a woman, but men don’t keep all those bits of information connected in their minds. If a guy has had half a dozen lovers he doesn’t recall what he did and didn’t do with each of them. Really, he doesn’t.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Home As A Safe PlaceMy Profile

    • @B- Being a woman myself, and a sensitive one at that, I would never want to add to your hurt over this situation but, in reality you have wasted three years of your life fretting and obsessing over something that in all likelihood your husband never meant as you have taken it. Another reality is, at 5’9″ and 155 pounds, you may not be ‘petite’ or brunette but you are definitely thin (good grief, woman, you are far from “big”, just on the taller side) and, another definite: your husband chose YOU. Don’t waste another day. If you want to try this position with your husband, go for it. Doing it might help you break out of a mental rut. At the very least you might really enjoy it. Do it for yourself. If you’re afraid, talk it over first with your husband. I highly doubt he will decline or stop you. P.S.- you probably have long legs…use them for extra support if you’re worried about being too heavy on his lap. That’s an advantage! Also, please work on how you think of yourself. The good Lord created you just the way He wanted you to look so, no way are you not beautiful. Quit comparing yourself to all the other women your husband did not choose. If he told you you’re his favorite to do anything with, believe him and be glad he used his words to bless you like that.

      • Thank you, @Roomtogrow. You are not wrong. I have wasted a great deal of time fretting about this. “Stinkin’ Thinkin'” is hard to change.
        My own insecurities make it easy to believe I’m not top on his list. I need to learn to listen to him and not my insecurities. It’s hard.
        Thank you for your kind words.

  5. I still have a bottle of cologne, among many, that a girl I dated in college gave to me. After we had been married for ten years, I realized it and asked my wife if it mattered to her, she looked at me like “who cares”. There are probably pictures of me with old girlfriends in my college scrapbook, and her with old boyfriends in hers. Do either of us go look at them? Of course not, what on earth does that help with?

    If you are worried about your husband remembering something better with another woman, that is easily fixable. If you are married you have all the time in the world to figure the combo to that lock out, it’s your own fault if you choose not to. Your attitude has more to do with what you husband misses than the physical, he misses having a girlfriend that acted interested in him and making him happy, the specific act is just a representation of that.

  6. Yes. I think you are getting the main point now.

    XY says thing with the Matilda –
    XY hears – Thing – ; XX hear – MATILDA!!! (bold, underlined and with flashing neon lights).

    Like I said: Just ask for thing. Leave Matilda out of it.
    Unless you want your wife to feel like you’ve punched her in the gut (and that she’s better than you, he misses her and all the other things B and Henri mentioned and have her not be able to stand the thought of thing for several years).

    Problem solved.

    I thought “Do not talking about the ex” was in the basic relationship handbook. I thought all men knew not to do this. Apparently I was wrong.

  7. “She thinks about the context, while he just thinks about the thing.”

    What good is a thing without context?
    If Jenny had laid there like a starfish (context) sex (thing) probably wouldn’t have been remembered as pleasurable.

    If he wants to bring this exciting pleasurable “thing” into Our context, I prefer he leave his previous context out of the equation.

    And if I die before my husband,
    I pray his memories consist of more than just things.
    I hope our relationship had context for him.
    Otherwise, all that sex was “just sex”.

    • @Jolie – It’s not that there is no context – it just doesn’t have the same connections in our brains it has in women’s brains.
      I think it’s more of a one-way thing for men, while for women it’s two way. When I think of a person I think of the things I have done with them. But when I think of activities I don’t have a strong connection back to the person I did that with. When I think back on a lot of the fun things I did as a kid, teen, and young man, I don’t make the relational connections I take it women make. I can make those, it’s just not automatic. But when I think back on my friends from then, I automatically think of the things we did together.
      Does that make any sense?
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Home As A Safe PlaceMy Profile

      • @Paul,

        What you say makes plenty of sense, it’s just disappointing. Only because it’s the connections and feelings that bring meaning and richness to my life. Makes me feel he’s missing out on something beautiful.
        I’m sure it’s just as disappointing when a wife ruins a perfectly fun/good opportunity to try a pleasurable sex act just because she associates said act with a previous “relationship”. Why can’t she just drop it and have fun? Makes him feel like he’s missing out on something beautiful. [ Sorry couldn’t help myself :)]

        So, after all of this, are we on the same page?
        He’s no longer ‘clueless’: he just associates things with things, people with things, but not things with people.
        She’s no longer a ‘liar’: she just associates everything with everybody and everybody with everything.
        Makes perfect sense to me.

        Sure hope that one ‘thing’ makes my husband think about me.

        • @Jolie – Men have connections, they are just different. On feelings, we do tend to shut them down too much, and yes, we miss some of the richness of life when we do that.
          And your analogy is excellent! Men wonder why she is so reluctant to dive into sex, which adds richness to a marriage! I know plenty of men whose biggest complaint about sex is their wife doesn’t enjoy it much,

          Same page? Maybe, maybe not, but at least we are in the same book now!
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Home Shouldn’t Be A Safe Place for SinMy Profile

  8. In our marriage, there’s little concern about exes, but early in our marriage I could have been insecure he was drawing from porn if he wanted to try something. But fortunately both of us became avid readers of The Marriage Bed website and had plenty of reference material! It gave us a great context for “research,” with no need to cite sources. Thanks Paul!

  9. I haven’t gone back to read the additional comments made, but based on the ones I did read I am happy to see the waffles and spaghetti reference. I really do think this is a gender difference thing. Reading the posts, it is somewhat about comparing ourselves to that other woman, but really the problem is the other woman, period. It’s all so interconnected (like spaghetti) that I just can’t wrap my brain around separating that act from that woman, so all I can imagine is that my husband is still fantasizing about her; especially if we were to try that position, how do I know he’s not remembering her? Like one commenter said, it feels like inviting someone else into the bedroom.

    I find it very HELPFUL then to hear the male perspective that this has been “boxed up” differently (like a waffle) than I imagined and that most men have no problem separating the thing from the person. Maybe that’s disappointing to some women, but I find that helpful and am oddly jealous, because I wish it were that simple to break those kinds of connections but it just isn’t for me. I am the one with a sexual past, not hubby, and it took me almost 9 years of marriage to overcome hangups about receiving oral sex because of those negative associations. I am SO thankful I’m my husband’s first for everything.

    So anyway, yes, it’s about relationship—both between husband and wife but also husband and ex girlfriend, and we have a very hard time separating the act from the relationship.

  10. I wonder if women are less likely to separate past from present. Hubby hopefully connected activity with relationship at the time. Otherwise, we might question his character. But now that the relationship has ended, he NO LONGER connects the activity, and the joy and passion that came with it, with the former relationship or person. He connects it with his wife. He’s not pursuing the “thing,”, he’s pursuing passion with his wife.

    That’s a tough sell for those who know about the mental rolodex. They know hubby has the file in his head. And their inability to compartmentalize adds to the complexity. He may not be thinking about his ex while they do the “thing”, but she surely is. Not only does she connect the “thing” with his ex, she now connects his ex with their current sexual activity. It’s as if they are a threesome in the bedroom, and she feels violated.

    • @StandingTall – That sounds about right. Sadly most men can have sex without any connection, but it’s not good sex; it’s just physical, and it’s hollow and empty. When a man is young and his sexuality is in overdrive that can sometimes be enough. Most men grow beyond that.
      For me, sex and Lori are inexorably connected. If she died and I remarried, sex would become just as connected to my new wife.
      I understand what you are saying about her view of it. Given how she makes connections it’s perfectly logical. But for the man who doesn’t make connections that way, it seems odd.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Post Sex TouchMy Profile

    • Women can have sex without the emotional connection as well. (Studies have confirmed this as well, but unfortunately I don’t have time to go find the links. Sorry!). However, I think your take, StandingTall, is a good one: It is emotional and connecting at the time, but men do seem to have an easier time of separating that out if the relationship goes away. Then it’s just history. While for women, a lot of feeling can still come up with such memories. (At least, that’s how I’ve seen it work…though I guarantee I’m not speaking for all women.)
      J. Parker recently posted…Are You Guilty of Whataboutism in Your Marriage?My Profile

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